Unexpected life challenges can propel us to become more involved with our communities. For Anton X, re-connecting with his father and getting tested for HIV were the pivotal moments that led him to become the HIV advocate he is today. Now at 23 years old, he is changing the face of leadership in the health equity movement.
Originally from Maywood, a village just outside of Chicago, X currently lives in Aurora. He made the move with his mom over seven years ago, after she decided she wanted to be closer to her family. While X and his mom have always had a close, strong relationship, he can't say the same for the relationship with his dad.
"We have had a bit of a spotty relationship since my childhood," says X. "But once I became 18 years of age, I wanted to explore a more in-depth view of manhood."
X moved to the south side of Chicago to reconnect with his dad in hopes of developing a tighter bond. Here, X learned about his father's involvement with the Black Panther Party Cubs (BPPC). The group's mission is to empower and support oppressed communities through acts of community service. They draw from the Black Panther Party’s ideology developed in the late 1960s. This messaging immediately drew X to the group and he knew that this was something he wanted to be a part of.
In fall of 2014, X began participating in a service events with BPPC to bring food and other immediate resources to communities throughout the Chicago area. They traveled to different neighborhoods, and X had the chance to see, first hand, the positive impact that this group had on people.
“People come together and we bring masses of food … We're doing this as a community. Day in and day out in this city, most people don’t even recognize [us] … This is our duty for the people.”
X not only grew closer to his dad during this time, but also felt connected to a larger cause. He felt a new sense of purpose. However, after about a year, X began feeling homesick and decided to move back to Aurora with his mom. He still stayed connected to BPPC and often made trips between the two cities to continue participating in service events.
In January of 2015, X made one of his frequent trips into Chicago, but this time he decided it was time to finally visit a health center to address the "unsettling feeling" he was ignoring for some time. X went to a hospital on the south side to get tested for HIV - his results came back positive. X felt numb and overwhelmingly insecure after hearing his results. He did not want to talk about his status with anyone. The hospital referred him to Open Door Health Center in Aurora so he could receive services and figure out his next steps for treatment.
This was a new world for X and a new part of life to navigate. “It was a slow start,” says X when talking about first working with his case manager. "It was a new crowd, but we eventually got acquainted." HIV was not something X imagined would be a part of his life.
“It’s good to know that you live with it, but it doesn’t really take the worry away.”
X consulted with his case manager for several months and developed a stronger relationship with her. Her connections helped him find resources beyond HIV treatment and re-focused his energy on personal development.
“She does do a lot of resourcing … I can come in sometimes and ask her ‘My finances are completely crap. Do you have help for that?’ and she’ll sit me down and I’ll have several different opportunities … She’s good like that!”
In addition to helping him manage his finances, X's case manager connected him to events and trainings to familiarize him with this his new community of people living with HIV. The 24th Annual Illinois HIV/STD Conference in Springfield, Illinois kick-started X’s activism and advocacy for people living with HIV. X was surrounded by people who were striving, like him, to make a difference while thriving with HIV.
Following the conference, X dedicated himself to connecting with the HIV community in Aurora. Luckily, Open Door Health Center, a prominent organization in Aurora, connects people living with HIV to health services and partners with the AIDS Foundation of Chicago on trainings, community events and advocacy.
“First I was a patient, then advocacy became part of it. They sent me to some training seminars [at the AIDS Foundation of Chicago].”
With these new skills, X confidently participated in his first Advocacy Day with advocates from across Illinois in May of 2016. This was his first taste of HIV/AIDS advocacy. X quickly embraced the role of an advocate and understands the importance of sharing his story and uplifting others to do the same.
“I think it’s important to share. Everybody should share their own story … not just people who are positive,” says X. “I share my story mainly to kind of shed a light on some of the things I’ve seen from my own perspective.”
X participated in a number of round-table discussions focused on HIV and continues to attend every conference, advocacy day and BPPC community event he can. His dedication to learning, sharing resources and connecting with communities continues daily, and will only end once everyone has equitable access to resources.